Math + Codes = Not Architecture / by S. Joshua Brincko

Many people assume architects take tons of math courses in college. That's false. In fact, I took a course called "Math for Architects" one year. It was the standard 15 week long college math course that all college students took, EXCEPT after 10 weeks, it was determined (the passing) architecture students had satisfied the minimum requirements for the profession. So in reality, architects get less math training than most. On a typical day, I do add/subtract/multiply and maybe even divide, but who doesn't? On rare occasion do I ever need to do anything more complicated than that. 

Do architects get tons of technical training in building codes or construction practices? Nope. Short of a few mentions of it here or there in college, all of that stuff is learned on the job. I learned to build stuff from building stuff, and I learned to comply with the codes by being diligent and reading the phone book sized volumes of zoning, building, residential, health, and fire codes as needed on each project. Anyone can figure those things out if there's a willingness to dedicate the time.

OK...so what does an architect actually get trained to do? We get trained to create appropriate experiences within our environment. What does that mean? Think of any past memory: Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? Try to think about your surroundings in this memory. This memory is likely largely facilitated by some architect somewhere. The space (inside or outside) that you were in was designed by someone.  It may have been an architect, a builder, a park ranger, your uncle, a committee, or anyone else who came up with the idea to make that place. Depending on how that space was designed, you are more likely to have different types of experiences. Was your kitchen open and filled with light as a kid? If so, you may have great memories of gatherings in that space. Was your bedroom facing a busy street with poor lighting? Were the materials interesting? Architects understand how places can inspire people and evoke certain human behaviors. We analyse so many factors including math, codes, views, materials, privacy, lighting, solar angles, ventilation, human perceptions, etc.  Everybody is different, and so is every project. All design starts with understanding the people who will interact with the space.

How do architects get this training? In college, we did tons of very time consuming projects that had various parameters involving different types of people, cultures, materials, and methodologies. Applying appropriate solutions to the assigned context was the focus of our training. Did you have any friends in college that were architecture majors? How often did you see them? We were absentees since we were required to spend countless hours (more than a full-time job) in our design studio working on these projects, getting feedback from our professors, and starting the projects over again to incorporate that feedback. 90% of the students dropped out of my program because it was so rigorous. This type of training continues on the job where architects get more and more exposure to more projects.

The good architects never stop working. We are continuously flying through our projects while we are trying to sleep. We are thinking through all the possible scenarios of how people will experience our spaces, what materials would be most suitable, the best possible way to construct it, etc. We cannot look at the world the same way we used to. Every environment is full of design decisions, and we analyse them to see if there's anything we can learn from those places. Sitting in a restaurant, we look at the chair, the bar, the lighting, the movement of the patrons, the movement of the staff, etc. We go to the bathroom just to see the bathroom, not just because we need to use the bathroom. It's a never-ending pursuit to understand how humans experience and interact with various spaces.

Sure I can help you with the budgeting, permitting, construction of your project. That's easy. Anyone can figure that out. I can help you with so much more though. I can help you with things you've never dreamed of. Things you didn't know you needed. I can help you make a place that will become a great memory.